Federal statistics show farming expenses have risen significantly in the last few years. However, some local growers and agricultural industry experts say that despite rising costs, Alabama farmers had a good year in 2012 due mainly to proper management practices. They expect similar results this year.
“Last year we had an early spring and did real nice ... on the whole we had a pretty good year,” said Jon Hegeman of Hegeman Farms in White Plains. “We’re taking better management — we micromanage everything.”
Hegeman operates eight acres of greenhouses and sells what he grows to large chain stores like Lowe’s. His wife, Amy Hegeman, raises and trains horses. The couple are doing well, they said, despite the rising costs of fertilizer and feed.
“This year we expect to do about the same as last year,” Hegeman said.
Hegeman, who is also chairman of the Alabama Farmers Federation’s young farmers program, said many farmers in the state did well last year, despite rising costs, through better management techniques.
“They only take fertilizer where it’s needed ... they have become more efficient over the years instead of raising their prices,” Hegeman said. “Our prices have not gone up in 15 years even though our input costs have doubled.”
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Resource Management Survey, farmers spent an estimated $318.7 billion in 2011, a 10.2 percent increase from 2010. And 2010 expenditures increased 0.6 percent compared to 2009. The cost of animal feed in 2011 increased 21.4 percent while the cost of chemicals, seeds and fertilizers increased 20.6 percent compared to 2010.
The department does not yet have 2012 figures, but will spend the next several months gathering production practices from 33,000 farmers across the country, including 250 in Alabama. The survey shows the cost of being a farmer in the United States and is used as a baseline for various federal policies and programs that help the agricultural industry.
Max Runge, extension economist at Auburn University, said farmers in Alabama did slightly better in 2012 than the previous year.
“And right now we expect 2013 to be about 5 percent higher in production than 2012,” Runge said.
Runge agreed with Hegeman that expenses increased for farmers last year and that farmers are normally good at adapting to such cost jumps.
“Rising prices is sort of an expected, inherent part of farming and agriculture,” Runge said. “They are forced to become more efficient or get out of the business.”
Runge said some farmers compensate for increased costs by simply expanding their farms and growing more crops. Others install better irrigation systems to offset weather risks and better manage their supplies.
“And what many of them do is when they have a good year, they pay down their debt and invest and put away some money for when they do have a bad year,” Runge said.
Doug Trantham of Trantham Farms in Alexandria said he also had good production last year. Trantham owns 1,100 acres and mainly grows corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat.
Trantham said he had a good year even though his seed costs increased about 10 percent.
“We just have to absorb it,” Trantham said of the cost increase. “We just work the market as best we can.”
Trantham added that he expected 2013 to be another good production year.
“We’ve got fairly good commodity prices that look fairly stable,” he said. “I think things will look about the same as they did in 2012.”
Katie Stuckey and her husband Mike Stuckey, who have owned the Ohatchee Blueberry Farm for 26 years, had a solid production year in 2012 despite increased costs.
“And we haven’t passed those costs on,” Katie Stuckey said.
Part of the Stuckeys’ cost-saving measures comes from better management, such as using a nearby creek to fuel their irrigation system. But blueberries have also increased in popularity in recent years, Stuckey said.
Stuckey said that in the last two years, customers have picked her 800 blueberry bushes clean.
“It’s more acceptable to be more frugal,” she said. “You can freeze a gallon of blueberries with us much cheaper than you can by buying them in a store.”
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.